What Car? says...
“The best defence is a good offence” doesn't just apply to sports and military combat – it’s equally relevant to the car you’re reading about: the BMW M5.
This sixth-generation M5 has been on sale for less than five years, yet BMW just keeps on releasing new versions with even more power and ability to take on its similarly extreme super-saloon rivals.
When it first went on sale in 2018, it featured a heavily tweaked 591bhp version of its predecessor’s twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine.
You’d think that would probably be enough poke for the average buyer, but it was barely a year before BMW released an even more hardcore, track-focused M5 called the Competition. With 616bhp and a 0-62mph time of just 3.3 seconds, only a Learjet could get you across Europe quicker.
In the rarefied world of super saloons, the Competition soon proved to be more popular than the ‘regular’ M5, so when it came time for a mid-life facelift, the standard car was dropped from the line-up.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that must be the end of the F90-series M5 story, but no. Less than a year after the launch of the face-lifted Competition, there's an even more driver-focused M5 in the form of the CS (or Clubsport). Yes, really.
With a smattering of carbon-fibre body panels, forged 20in wheels, standard-fit carbon-ceramic brakes and carbon-backed lightweight seats, it's a good 70kg lighter than the Competition. That, combined with more performance-focused dampers from the BMW M8 Gran Coupe and a revised steering set-up, means the CS should, in theory, feel even more precise in the bends.
So should you stick with the already superb Competition or fork out a bit extra for the CS? And do either of these M5s have what it takes to outperform a truly superb selection of rivals in the form of the Porsche Panamera Turbo, Mercedes-AMG E63 and Audi RS6?
That’s what the next few pages of this review will tell you. Even if you’re not in the market for a 190mph super saloon, we can save you a good few quid on nearly any make and model of vehicle through the free What Car? New Car Buying service, which features some particularly tempting BMW M5 deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
As part of the BMW M5’s mid-life facelift, BMW made a concerted effort to simplify the set-up process for all the driving modes.
Instead of having separate buttons for steering, engine and suspension calibration as you did in the previous car, there is now just a button labeled ‘Setup’ and another marked ‘M Mode’ sitting alongside the gear lever.
When you hit the Setup button, you no longer have to scroll through each menu individually – you can now just use the car’s central touchscreen display to do everything at once. It’s certainly easier than the old system.
If you keep the standard adaptive suspension in its softest setting and select Efficient mode via the Drive Performance button – for tamer accelerator response and less aggressive gear changes – the M5 bumbles around in a more relaxed fashion than the always more aggressive-feeling Mercedes-AMG E63.
The turbocharged V8 remains hushed and flexible, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox shuffles neatly through its gears. That said, the Competition isn’t the most relaxing car of its type. It’s not overly firm, but the ride is less plush than in the Audi RS6 or Porsche Panamera, and the large wheels pitter-patter over town roads in much the same way as an E63’s do.
That's not the case in the M5 CS, though. Despite riding 7mm lower than the Competition because of its revised springs, tweaked anti-roll bars and M8 Gran Coupe-sourced dampers, the CS feels significantly more pliant.
The suspension soaks up all but the harshest imperfections in the road surface, and it almost feels as though BMW’s engineers have set up shop in North Wales and spent their time optimising the CS’s suspension for the roads around Snowdonia.
This new-found control gives you more confidence to push on when the road starts to get challenging. That's a good thing, because when you decide to deploy all 626 horses, the CS fires you up the road like the angry hand of God has just given you an almighty smack on the bottom.
When our good friends over at Autocar strapped some timing gear to the CS on a private test track, it managed to return a 0-60mph time of less than 3 seconds. That is simply mind-boggling acceleration for a non-electric performance car.
You won't get much chance to deploy all 626bhp on the public road, but you’ll be pleased to hear that the tweaks made to the CS’s 4.4-litre V8 are readily apparent at more normal speeds.
The CS’s engine feels stronger than the Competition’s from lower down the rev range, and also responds more willingly to accelerator inputs. That, combined with a more natural-sounding active exhaust (the Competition, to these ears at least, seems to rely more on synthesised sound piped in through the speakers) makes the CS the more immersive car to drive quickly on a country road.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the CS is the most complete and confidence-inspiring full-sized performance saloon currently on sale. Even with the four-wheel drive system switched off (something we advise you to leave for the track) the CS can be made to dance as it exits a corner like a car half its size – a trait that characterised the great M5s of old.
The interior layout, fit and finish
In traditional BMW M5 fashion, there are very few changes between the regular Competition and a standard 5 Series (the same is true of the Audi RS6 and A6).
You do get heavily bolstered, supportive sports seats, seatbelts in M Division colours and a bright red starter button as standard, plus there's a multitude of leather and interior trim finishes to choose from. Essentially, though, the M5 remains a superbly comfortable luxurious saloon car at heart.
The CS is a bit racier, with its Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, carbon-fibre flappy gearshift paddles and carbon-fibre backed bucket seats (borrowed from the BMW M3), but it’s still identifiably a 5 Series. This is no stripped out road racer like an Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA or Jaguar XE SV Project 8.
Whichever M5 you choose, you’ll find a wide range of steering wheel and seat adjustments. Visibility is pretty good all around but, to help you out, there are front and rear sensors, a 3D camera and even a parking assistant system that will guide your car into a parking space autonomously.
The M5 also comes with BMW’s range-topping Professional Multimedia system, which packs a whopping 12.3in widescreen, and has wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, sat-nav, online services and DAB radio. It’s one of the best systems going, with easy-to-follow menus and responsive software – more so than the occasionally dim-witted system in the Mercedes-AMG E63.
The M5’s screen is touch-sensitive, so you can control it by pressing icon. There’s also a rotary dial between the front seats that's surrounded by shortcut buttons. That's much easier – and safer – to use while you're driving because you just twist the dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press it down to make selections. With touchscreen-only systems, as you get in the RS6 and Porsche Panamera, you have to look away from the road to hit the icons.
A wifi hotspot and concierge service is standard, and helps with tasks such as finding parking places and service areas. The options list includes a range of increasingly powerful sound systems (the B&W Diamond Surround Sound System will be appreciated by music fans) and a digital TV. There’s even a gesture control feature, which lets you operate certain functions using mid-air hand signals. It's more of a gimmick than a useful gadget, though.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The BMW M5 Competition may be capable of out-accelerating supercars, but that doesn’t mean BMW has compromised on practicality.
Here, the only real difference from a standard 5 Series is the wider front sports seats. They give the driver and passenger more lateral support yet still offer ample head and leg room for six-footers.
The CS, meanwhile, is a little more compromised. It comes with even more aggressive M carbon bucket seats, borrowed from the BMW M4 CS. They have a heavily sculpted base so taller drivers can sit even lower behind the wheel, but do take more effort to get into and out of, especially in tight car parking spaces where you can’t fully open the door.
It’s a little surprising to discover that BMW has sealed up the centre storage cubby. We’re not sure how that saves weight exactly (perhaps the hinges were made out of lead) but you no longer have a place to put your Wine Gums.
Another sacrifice has been made in the name of weight-saving is the removal of the middle rear seat. This change doesn’t affect practicality as much as you might think. Being the third back-seat passenger in the M5 has never been a particularly comfortable experience as shoulder room is tight and you have to straddle a raised central tunnel.
If you’re looking for the most practical super saloon, we’d recommend taking a look at the Mercedes-AMG E63 Estate – it has more head and leg room and feels quite a bit airier thanks to its tall side windows.
As for the boot, both the Competition and CS have enough space for a couple of large suitcases and some smaller bags. Rather than being a simple square shape, the load bay is full of contours that can be restrictive when trying to load large, bulky objects. The E63 Estate’s boot is larger, and can fit a whopping 10 cases below the tonneau cover.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Only you can decide if spending a six-figure sum on a 600bhp super saloon makes logical sense. Rivals such as the Audi RS6 and Mercedes-AMG E63 are priced in line with the M5 Competition, while the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid occupies the same rarified air as the M5 CS.
That said, paying a third more for the CS over the Competition is still an eye-watering proposition. While the CS is likely to be the swansong for this generation of M5, we doubt it will be a collector’s item – depreciation is likely to be in line with the E63 S and heavier than the RS6 and Panamera.
The Competition and CS will both be rather expensive to run, too. Despite BMW’s best efforts to reduce weight by using copious amounts of carbon fibre, aluminium and high-strength steel, you’ll be lucky to see an average fuel economy figure above 25mpg. You can expect half that if you use the full might of the engine.
You’ll need deep pockets to run an M5 as a company car. A high list price and official CO2 emissions of over 250g/km place the car in the top 37% band, meaning benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax payments will be sizeable.
Still, you do get plenty of kit for your money. As standard, the Competition comes with 20in alloys, bespoke M bumpers and side skirts, a limited-slip differential and electronically adjustable heated M Sport front seats with lumbar support. The list also includes adaptive LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and automatic lights and wipers.
In fact, the Competition is so well equipped you don’t really have to buy many options, but if you fancy taking your M5 on a track (or on to an autobahn, for that matter) you might want to spec the optional carbon ceramic brakes and the M Driver’s Pack, which increases the top speed from 155mph to an eye-watering 189mph
If you simply want all the goodies, you can just tick the box for the Ultimate Pack, which introduces a carbon-fibre engine cover, massaging seats, seat ventilation, a more powerful stereo, a B&W Diamond Surround Sound System and the ceramic brakes and top speed increase in the M Driver's Pack.
The CS, of course, adds to that list with numerous go-faster goodies including a smattering of carbon-fibre body panels, forged 20in wheels, standard-fit carbon-ceramic brakes, carbon-backed lightweight seats, improved engine cooling and an upgraded oil system.